If anyone can appreciate what Katie Staiger has endured in recent weeks, it’s Shelly Fanning.
Staiger, Baylor volleyball’s All-American outside hitter, has missed all but a few minutes of the Bears’ last five games with a foot injury. Fanning can empathize. The sophomore middle blocker spent the entire 2016 season adjusting to a new role — that of supporter from the bench.
“It’s tough,” Fanning said. “We’ve had a lot of talks about just how tough it can be, and just whenever you have such big goals and big dreams personally, it’s tough to see your team go through those without your help on the court. It’s a different role, for sure. But I think Katie’s doing a great job. It’s a tough position to be in, but I think great people can adjust to it and she’s definitely doing that.”
Great teams adjust on the fly as well, and 19th-ranked Baylor (21-5 overall, 11-2 Big 12) is demonstrating it might have the makings of one. The Bears haven’t dropped a set in their past five matches, culminating with a eye-opening sweep of then-No. 11 Kansas in Lawrence last Saturday.
“I really am excited,” Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said. “We said back in August we were going to be a lot better in December than we were then. And even the second time through (conference play), we’ve been able to add some wrinkles and things that are different.”
No coach ever wants to see his players suffer injuries, but sometimes they can spark what McGuyre termed “light bulb moments.” One flicker of inspiration that has caught fire for the Bears has been the unleashing of Yossiana Pressley as a hitting force on the outside.
The freshman from Cy-Falls has ably taken on Staiger’s old duties as a stone-cold killer. Pressley has averaged 16.8 kills over her past five outings, and has won the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week awards in each of the past three weeks.
“Yossi, she’s incredible. She just does some amazing things,” Fanning said. “Even in practice, we’re shocked all the time. She’s incredible. I think that her success has a lot to do with how hard she works in practice and how ready she is to give everything to her teammates.”
It may be a long shot, but Baylor has put itself in at least sniffing position of a Big 12 title. The Bears need to root for the Jayhawks to beat conference-leading Texas (21-2, 13-0) on Wednesday, while taking care of business on their own. If Texas suffered a loss and Baylor won each of its next two games, at home Wednesday against Kansas State and at West Virginia on Sunday, it would have a chance to host the Longhorns in the regular-season finale on Nov. 25 with a share of the Big 12 title on the line.
It’s nice to think about, but McGuyre knows that his team can’t afford to think about it for too long. The Big 12 is too competitive.
“It’s been one of our goals to be a very mature team,” the coach said. “And to be a mature team requires some wisdom that’s involved in that. We know we can’t be anxious or worried about the future, but we have to focus on what can we do to prepare today.”